A suitably raw, wholly engaging documentary, “Rise Above” pays tribute to San Francisco-based Tribe 8, a leading lesbian punk band founded in 1992. With footage spanning band’s history, feature offers a unique perspective on the lesbian community’s own shift from ’70s feminism-based political correctitude to a more encompassing embrace of rebellious fringe elements. It’s also a joyful punk lifestyle manifesto akin to “Another State of Mind” and the original “Decline of Western Civilization.” Beyond gay fest travel and vid sales to fans, pic could spin novel subject matter toward specialized arthouse exposure, conceivably providing Tribe 8 broader exposure.
The ramalama “melodies” and vocal screeches of singer Lynnee Breedlove are limited in range, to say the least — though not much more so than such similarly movement-sparking, working-class punk icons as Sham 69 or even the hallowed Sex Pistols.
Songs like “Femme Bitch Top,” “Castration Song #22,” “Lezbophobia” and “Wrong Bathroom” bury occasional serious, political content in amusing shock value lyrics; Breedlove’s oft-indecipherable words are thankfully lent subtitle translation here (e.g. “That’s Mr. Dyke to you”) on occasion.
But while band has limited appeal on disc, their raucous, high-energy live shows are another matter. Admitting they initially included “circus acts” to deflect attention from their initial hapless musicianship, quintet still often performs topless, defying anyone to heckle sight of naked female punks pushing 40. Stage business frequently includes invitation for straight male attendees to orally service the sizable, er, appendage Breedlove straps on — a rather mindbending gender-role subversion typical of Tribe 8’s humorous tactics, and one duly preserved here in a montage of several adventuresome fellows obeying her command.
Plentiful concert segments are nicely interwoven with portraits of band members as individuals and as collective. Most came from broken homes, and/or suffered formative misfit status (from tomboyishness, mixed-race parents, etc.) that led them toward the punk scene. Breedlove’s own backstory is most dramatic, with an Army stint and some extreme drug use/dealing misadventures before music gave her a healthier focus. Her bemusedly tolerant mother, also interviewed, clearly approves of that progression.
Members’ day jobs (from Fed Ex deliverer to tattoo artist), varying status as “chick magnets” (including groupies), side projects (indie pic “By Hook or by Crook,” Breedlove’s impressive first novel “Godspeed”), domestic situations, et al, provide further human interest.
Most striking single event was a decade ago, when Tribe 8 became the first punk band invited to traditionally folksy annual Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. Their appearance touched off a firestorm of debate and controversy (band’s flirtation with S&M imagery earned protest signs reading “Tribe 8 Promotes Violence Against Women”) which ultimately helped loosen up the hitherto lesbian-orthodox, granola fest.
Lively assemblage juggles music, personalities, social issues and footage of myriad film/vid formats to nimble effect, maintaining interest throughout. Tech package is solid while adhering to anti-slick punk aesthetic.